So, I'm still slowly exploring the taqueria scene in my neck of the woods (just tried huaraches yesterday, a very pleasant revelation), and I have a question about the soups I often see patrons eating. Of the two acclaimed taquerias I've visited so far, one serves soup though it's not on the menu and the other features soup on its menu board, listed with the same meat options as its tacos, gorditas, etc. Unfortunately, there is too much of a language gap between the servers and me to ascertain what kind of soup these places are serving. So my question is, is there more or less a "standard" soup or soup base served at taquerias in the States? Or does it vary widely, and you just don't know until you take the plunge? Thanks in advance for furthering my taqueria education.
Here are some possibilities of Soups they May be serving:
Caldo de Pollo (Mexican Chicken soup sometimes flavored with Mint)
Albondigas (Meatball soup sometimes in a tomato-chipotle broth)
Menudo ("Hangover" Norteno Tripe soup in chile broth - usually a saturday and sunday special)
Posole (Pork soup with nixtamalized corn: Three variations: Verde[Guerrenese], Rojo [Jaliscan], y blanco)
Siete Mares ( 7 seas)
Tortilla Soup (D.F.'s soup)
Birria (Consomme) [could be goat or beef - my favorite)
Tlalpeno (chipotle &chicken)
fideos (vermecelli soup)
caldo de res (beef soup ... sometimes with a cow's hoof in there)
caldo de camarones (shrimp soup)
caldo de pescado (fish soup)
Menudo and pozole are usually only served on week-ends
I wouldn't start with menudo. I have had some menudo that made me a convert and some menudo which would have scared me out of a hangover, the tripe almost moo-ed.
I love pozole. It made me fall in love with Mexican soups. I've never seen the green, usually its the red and the one place I saw the white went out of business before I could get there.
I'm not that impressed with plain chicken soup. It is ok ... whole chicken legs with bones are usually in there with big chuncks of veggies ... usually carrots, celery and potato, sometimes chayote. I prefer the Tlalpeno which has more character.
I have yet to have a great meatball soup. They have been good, but not earth-shattering. Better than the chicken.
I like Tortilla soup a lot but only if they serve the condiments on the side. I like to add the cheese and tortillas myslef. Only had fideos once. It wasn't too memorable but it was at an upscale American place. Never saw it elsewhere on a menu in my area.
Birria is great --- rich and thick with the most tender meat. I like the goat (chivo) better.
Don't remember trying seafood soups.
My Two Cents...
RW & Kare have done a great job describing the usual suspects here in California. The thing is that Soups / Stews are the what people in Mexico most commonly eat... so while they are not meant to be served at Taquerias, and there are no given Taqueria standards... the Taquerias will go out of their way to make a daily batch everyday for anybody that wants them (not a given since Mexican eating habits change radically in the U.S.)... and that is why one place doesn't list them on the menu.
(BTW, every little Mexican place seems to have some specialty off the menu... only available to the priveleged few that know what to ask for. Its usually some regional specialty they can't make any money on, but they have to carry it so they don't alienate the small percentage of clientele from their hometown etc.)
With that said, when I drove around RTP, I noticed immigrants from the state of Guerrero (think Acapulco), whereas California doesn't have any perceptible population of Guerrerenses (here its mostly people from Michoacan, Jalisco, Sinaloa etc)... so the soups served at their taquerias are bound to be quite different from what we get in California (with the exception of Guerrero's Green & White pozoles mentioned by Kare).
The most common I see are menudo and pozole. Caldo de pollo and caldo de rez would be next. Caldo de mariscos (siete mares?) and albondigas would be next.
Pozole would be my best bet (hope you like hominy). It's been pretty good the places I've been. Whereas caldo de Mariscos has been quite bad many places I've been. I would love to find birria soup. That sounds terrific. (There's a Salvadorean resto that served iguana soup. It was a bit too "inguany" for me.)
re: J T
Didn't taste like chicken?
On the SF board SOMEWHERE ... is La Loma # 11 on Rumrill Road that has a GREAT beef birria. Also El Tapatio on 23rd has a wonderful goat birria complete with little bones in the tender goat meat.
BTW, thanks for that long ago rec for Hacienda Grill ... haven't tried the soup there yet, though.
Yeah, I love hominy. It has a nice sorta chewy texture to it.
Thanks everyone for the help. Y'all are great. I think the soup I saw patrons eating on Saturday was probably menudo. I believe I saw menudo listed on the menu, but since I am married to a Filipino-American, my conception of what menudo is was quite different than what you are describing, being more of a stew with pork and/or pork liver in Filipino cuisine. Interestingly, it seems to be popular among Filipinos to eat tripe with alcohol in order to prevent hangovers. I wonder where tripe gets its reputation as a hangover helper/preventer from. Maybe the idea is that the tripe absorbs the alcohol? Of course, that wouldn't work the next day.
I tried tortilla soup in Baja and loved it. The version I tried came with avocado pieces on the side in addition to the cubed cheese and tortilla strips. Is that pretty standard?
I must admit I'm not sure where most of the Mexican population in my area hails from. Since two popular taquerias use the name "La Nortena," I'm guessing maybe Northern Mexico? Do Mexican restaurant names often indicate the region where the owners are from? If so, what are some examples?
Finally, to speak to one of Eat Nopal's point, can someone provide me with the appropriate phrase, in Spanish, to ask what the (off-the-menu) house specialty is at a taqueria? And what are the chances they would divulge such information to a gringo like me?
re: Low Country Jon
If you can find out where they are from... I will give you the right dishes to ask for. Just as an example... the other day I was at a Yucatecan place... by asking for Chayagra (an Agua Fresca made from a tropical green not unlike Collards)... they didn't have it, but turned me on to Pino brand soda... which has a Chicozapote Sap (Bubble Gum Tree) and a Barley flavor (among standards like Apple Cider & Mandarin).
Chances are...if you know what to ask for, they will tell you. Yucatecans tend to dislike Mexicans (they see themselves as a seperate country)... yet if you ask for the right things, they feel appreciated.
When I moved to Yuma, I was amazed by all the Mexican soups. Not Mexican food like I suspected. Kaire and rw have provided nice lists, so this is merely a couple add-ons and comments.
Cactus soup - picadillo de nopales, cactus in chili broth topped with choice of meat or shrimp
menudo blanco - never had it as I love my regular chili brothed menudo
shrimp and fish - catfish fillets and shrimp
Chicken soup with fideos - place is no longer in business, but this was good soup.
Here I've never seen albondigas in anything but a clear broth.
Caguamanta - reconstituted dried sting-ray soup. A lot like a Manhatten clam chowder in flavor.
Finally had green posole. wow! But I love green chili in general.
I tend to think of birria as more of a stew, just meat in really dark chili broth; much like carne en su jugo or barbacoa in being meat in broth.
one old-school place will serve their green and red chili in bowl (probably an old attempt to cater to gringo expectations as this place has been around since the '40s).
Mexican soups are good. Here at least, some of the chicken soups can be quite tasty.
Often the soups are the daily special, and so each may be available only one day a week (or like menudo, only on weekends).
re: Ed Dibble
"Catfish fillets and shrimp"
You are probably referring to Caldo Michi... one of my favorite stews. Not that easy to find. I've only seen it offered in restaurants where there is a very small Jalisco migrant population, that is heavily male dominated (no women to cook).
When you have a heavy migration, then you see a women with good sazon is usually chosen to cook for 10 or 15 guys... they all pitch in for ingredients, & pay her a small salary (usually a second job).
That's not what they call it, but that could be the basis for the recipe. I get it at a small place that is connected with (has the same owner as) a popular taco truck. The place is called Tacos El Jarocho. Jarocho is a region near Veracruz, but I haven't noticed any dishes there that are radically different from the basically Jaliscan/Sonoran/Mexicali mix that tends to dominate the newer authentic Mexican spots here.